Taylor Swift’s New Concert Film: A Victory Lap Around a Victory Lap
The release of the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour film definitely proves Swift’s powerhouse status and continues her advocacy for artist autonomy.
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Taylor Swift has been breaking records since she signed her first record to Sony/ATV at age 14, becoming the youngest person in Sony’s history to do so. She began in the country genre with Taylor Swift (2006) but broke into the pop mainstream with Red (2012), which completely redefined Swift as an artist. From then on, her artistry swung between genres, from the trap-influenced reputation (2017) to the lovesick anthems of Lover (2019) to the indie sound of folklore (2020). During quarantine, she explored her uncharted musical territory: she began crafting stories disconnected from her personal life and weaving them into songs with more minimalist acoustic instrumentation, leading to the birth of her eighth studio album, the cozy but cinematic folklore. This transition to less pop-centric music not only reflected isolation, but also Swift’s acceptance of not feeling “new” and “exciting” in the industry anymore.
In her 2020 Netflix documentary Miss Americana, Swift explained, “We do exist in this society where women in entertainment are discarded in an elephant graveyard by the time they’re 35.” Swift’s predictions of fading into oblivion in the next few years have since been disproven; her popularity is more apparent than ever. This past year, Swift has been on a winning streak, from her record-breaking album Midnights (2022) to her sold-out 2023 Eras Tour. The Eras Tour, which is a celebratory journey through each album in her 17-year music career, has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon, including 146 shows spanning five continents. It has become a powerhouse of 2023 pop culture, with fans pouring their life savings into concert tickets (resale tickets skyrocketed to more than $20,000 on some sites), cities competing to honor her the most extravagantly, and a whopping $4.3 billion being pumped into the U.S. economy. Swift continues her winning streak with her brand-new concert film, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (2023).
The movie-concert opens with the Lover era, and what follows is a very energetic three hours. Swift maintains a bubbly and charming stage presence, exemplified by the close-ups of her winking to the audience or mouthing clever quips in response to specific song lyrics. Through her charismatic personality, she manages to match and sometimes even heighten the energy of her pop tunes, whether it be by marching through the spectacular set of “The Man” after spending a minute playfully teasing the title, or simply by introducing herself, saying “my name is Taylor” before “Lover.”
Swift also shines during slower ballads, crafting elaborate performances that fully capture the quiet power of her more intimate songs. During her folklore set, Swift perches atop a small wood cabin and describes how special her songwriting process was, from the fable-like “the last great american dynasty” to the hopeful, innocent “betty.” These moments feel so personal that whether they are in a theater of dozens or a stadium of thousands, Swift makes her viewers feel like they are watching a private performance.
However, as the concert continues, certain eras feel as if they are being performed more for the spectacle than out of authenticity; almost all of the Red era comes off as overdone and superficial, with bright red plastic outfits and over-dramatic facial expressions that make it feel more like a Target commercial than an appreciation of Swift’s artistry during her pivotal transition from country to pop. The dancers are phenomenal, but their extremely positive energy and over-acting cause the repetitive but sweet lyrics of tracks such as “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” to feel saccharine and over-the-top. The three-track run of “22,” “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” and “I Knew You Were Trouble” blatantly ignored deeper album cuts like “State of Grace” and “Sad Beautiful Tragic,” choosing the biggest hits over rich songwriting. Besides the wonderfully simplistic 10-minute performance of “All Too Well,” Red’s catalog was boiled down to its most radio-friendly singles, preventing it from fulfilling the Eras Tour’s goal of celebrating the entirety of Swift’s catalog.
The film, shot by Sam Wrench, bypassed the traditional route of distribution by major film studios; instead, Swift worked directly with theaters to make it onto the silver screen. The film cost between $10 million and $20 million to create and has made almost $200 million worldwide. The Eras Tour film was unconventional in its avoidance of major film studios, but this move aligns with Swift’s trailblazing advocacy for artist autonomy. This battle is one Swift knows “All Too Well;” she is currently in the process of re-recording and re-releasing her masters to gain ownership of them after they were sold against her will by Big Machine Records owner Scooter Braun.
Going to a concert in person certainly has its benefits, from the adrenaline rush of sharing lifelong memories with a cheering crowd of superfans to being in the same room (or stadium) as the idolized artist. However, the concert experience comes with a hefty price tag, including the costs of tickets, transportation, and hotels, as well as the stress of finding parking or waiting in hour-long bathroom and merch lines. The Eras Tour movie presents a genius solution to the downsides of concert-going, allowing fans to experience Swift in all her glory without their wallets suffering the consequences.